Gaining Prestige for Asylum Management

Bellevue Hospital, NY, 1885, courtesy Wellcome Images

One of the immediate issues facing insane asylum superintendents was their initial lack of status. The term “mad-doctor” had little to recommend it as an indication of learning and professionalism. Even the term “alienist” did not convey to the public the intricacies of helping disabled minds. To enhance their stature, these early psychiatrists found it helpful to band together in professional groups.

The American group first communicated with each other informally through letters. Then a group of thirteen insane asylum superintendents met in 1844 to share information and exchange ideas about the treatment of the insane. They named their group the Association of Medical Superintendents of American Institutions for the Insane.

German psychiatrists united as a professional body in the Association of German Mad-doctors in 1864, though the General Journal for Psychiatry and Psychic-forensic Medicine had begun publication in 1844. The British organized the Psychological Society in 1901. They changed their name to the British Psychological Society in 1906, to avoid confusion with another organization of the same name.

These early societies were successful in gaining stature for their profession. Many alienists began to testify as expert witnesses in public trials, and the public in general felt safe in relying on their judgment.

Published June 25, 1911, courtesy




One thought on “Gaining Prestige for Asylum Management

  1. Mark p.s.2

    From your own blog.
    “Dr. Amariah Brigham, testified in court that he could recognize insanity on sight.”

    {As “proof” that he could indeed make this kind of diagnosis, Brigham, at the direction of the court, scanned the crowd attending the trial so that he could pick out a lunatic. Eventually, he pointed to a man in the audience and pronounced him insane. The man reacted with wild gestures, shouting and cursing Brigham for calling him insane–which was taken as proof that he was. }

    That is science, oh ya.
    Dr Amariah Brigham psychiatry in 1903

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